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Living Within "The Empire", part 2


The political cartoon above appeared in an Arabic-American newspaper. It draws attention to what many others have thought about, written about, and even worried about -- that the U.S. may be taking its heritage of "expansionism" a bit too far -- not geographically, but geopolitically.

The questions raised in my first post about "The Empire" were not meant to demean the US at all. As a theologian, I was simply putting forth the question: are "empires" a legitimate threat? By "empire" I do not mean "nation." Empires are not merely nations; they control nations. And as I ponder that, it leads me to another question: should an "empire" be seen (from a macro perspective) as a human construct and attempt (even if it's not a conscious one) to supplant the reign of God? (excursus: some theologians have posited that the "city" is a human surrogate for the kingdom of God). I understand that all such "empires" have and will always be subject to God's rule. I'm simply wondering if expanding empires deserve moral/ethical scrutiny. Is the term, "Christian Empire" an oxymoron? What lessons can we learn from the last, so-called, "Christian Empire" (i.e. Roman)? How does the body-of-Christ-at-large (esp. outside the US) view the American "Empire"?

Death to Religion?

Crucified_god_1Ana at Deep Soil has been reading Jurgen Moltmann's "The Crucified God", and recently offered some thoughtful insights and reflection from this classic work (if you haven't read The Crucified God yet, you should). She begins by pondering Moltmann's assertion towards the beginning of the book that the cross was the death of all religions. Her post includes a number of excerpts from the book, along with her own thoughts (always enlightening) -- like this one:

When humans attempt to justify themselves through works (regardless of the religion), they become inhuman. Humans were not meant to somehow elevate themselves in order to become more god-like. The goal of humanity is not to become God. We were created not to be God, but to be humans in relationship with God. Hence, when religion takes works and puts them in between God and humans, it obscures the chance for those people to have a relationship with God. Furthermore, if humans were created to exist in relationship with God, and the fall broke that relationship, the only way to become truly human is through the restoration of that relationship, which is what Jesus did by becoming human and then dying in our place.

Why not take a spin over to Deep Soil and get into the conversation? Or as always... feel free to comment here as well.

Please Don't Kill Us!

Uncovering_1Update: my apologies for the recent slowdown in postings. Between pastoring, serving as interim principal for our Christian school, and completing my final semester of graduate studies, I've been a bit swamped -- but hang in there, I'm catching my breath!

As I continue thinking about last week's lecture by Cheryl Bridges Johns, Ph.D. -- professor of Christian Formation & Discipleship at Church of God Theological Seminary, I've been reflecting on a number of assertions she made that really grabbed a hold of me, including this one:

Under modernity, we sought to kill God.

Under postmodernity, we will beg God not to kill us.

In what ways do you see this claim as being true or not true?

Living Within "The Empire"

American_and_christian_flags_smYesterday I attended the beginning of this year's Robertson Lectureship at Azusa Pacific University. This year's presenter was Cheryl Bridges Johns, Ph.D. -- professor of Christian Formation & Discipleship at Church of God Theological Seminary. Her opening presentation was amazing: "The Beauty of Holiness Against the Glory of the Empire." Dr. Johns posits that the world today is no longer one dominated by two superpowers (USSR and US), but one. We are living the era of a single superpower, or better put, an "Empire." By adopting the term "Empire," Johns is deliberately wanting to draw analogies between the Roman Empire with it's pax romana, and the U.S. Empire with it's campaign: Pax Americana.

Like it's first century counterpart, the Church of today is faced with a variety of critical issues and choices, among which is this one: should our loyality to the Kingdom of God come second to our loyalty to the nation? Dr. Johns put the following question to those attending: "When we see the so-called "Christian flag" flying underneath the American flag (e.g. picture above), do we have the courage to deconstruct what this means?" What obligation does the Church have to serve as a "check" or corrective to the policies of The Empire? Should empires even be seen as viable/acceptable from a "kingdom of God" perspective?

What do you think?

Morality and the New Testament, part 1


While talking with a favorite professor last month about a teaching series I was starting to work on ("The Commands of Christ"), and my interest in the "imperatives" that Christ himself gave to his followers, he encouraged me to pick up the following book: The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, by Richard B. Hays (470 pages). I suppose that the cover (and maybe even the title) doesn't look all inviting, but what I'm discovering inside is amazing!

So I thought I'd try something a little different here at Paradoxology -- and share my thoughts and experiences with you all as I journey through Richard Hays' book. Hays, by the way, is professor of New Testament at Duke University, and this book has received high acclaim. Here's an example:

"This book isn't just a breat of fresh air. It's a hurricane, blowing away the fog of half-understood pseudo-morality and fashionable compromise, and revealing instead the early Christian vision of true humanness and genuine holiness. If this isn't a book for out time, I don't know what it." -- N.T. Wright

Moralvision2Hays begins his book by drawing attention to the many ways scripture is "claimed" by nearly everybody to support their beliefs, views, and causes.

Thus, we see Christians distributed across the various ethical spectrums -- from Oliver North to Daniel Berrigan, from Phyllis Schlafly to Elizabeth Shussler Fiorenza, from Jerry Falwell to Bishop John Shelby Spong -- all insisting that the Bible somehow informs their understanding of God's purposes (p.2).

Hasn't that fascinated you? Here in the U.S., most Civil War buffs are well aware that the leaders of both North and South quoted scripture and claimed God was on their side. And if you've ever gotten into a debate with someone of a theological persuasion other than your own, you know well how the scriptures can be appealed to by all. Well, Hays goes on to explain,

Continue reading "Morality and the New Testament, part 1" »


OxymoronicalargecoverAs I was browsing the web, I ran across an ad for a very intriguing book -- Oxymoronica: Paradoxical Wit & Wisdom From History's Greatest Wordsmiths, by Dr. Mardy Grothe. It was so impressive, I immediately ordered it!

Dr. Grothe offers the following definition:

Oxymoronica (AHK-see-mor-AHN-uh-kah) n.
"Any compilation of phrases or quotations that initially appear illogical or nonsensical, but upon reflection, make a good deal of sense and are often profoundly true."

To tease you a little, here are some samples:

“A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” – Thomas Mann

“I love being a writer. What I hate is the paperwork.” -- Peter De Vries

“It is not at all simple to understand the simple.” – Eric Hoffer

“Free love is too expensive” – Bernadette Devlin

“Knowledge is the knowing that we cannot know.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.” – Eric Hoffer

“All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe them.” – George Orwell

“A man by himself is in bad company.” -- Eric Hoffer

“A normal adolescent isn’t a normal adolescent if he acts normal.” -- Judith Viorst

“The efforts which we make to escape from our destiny only serve to lead us into it.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I thought these might be a refreshing way to think about paradox for a change. What do you think? Which one did you enjoy most?

As the Church Rediscovers Itself...

Many people are talking of how the Church of the 21st century is in the middle of an identity-crisis. Institutional or non-institutional? Missional vs. incarnational? Orthodox or emerging? The issue is complex.

Len Hjalmarson at has recently written an excellent article which takes up issues such as these. It's a longer read (23 pages), but is written so well and with such depth, it's well worth your time. Len has even made it available for download (.pdf). Go check it out.

Learning to BE Church: An Interview with a House-Church Team, part 4

This is the final installment of my interview with house-church pastors, Matt and Dawn Segawa, who are learning "how" to be the church outside of its tradtional, institutional structures.

What suggestions, if any, do you have for Emerging Church leaders – for those pursuing new and alternative ways of doing & being “church?”

Continue to seek and listen to what God is asking of you, and not just do things differently for the sake of being different. This speaks to motivation. If the motivation is to only cater to a particular age bracket, then why bother? If the motivation is just to “be different”, then why bother? And how is God really glorified in that anyway? If you only want to do things that are new or cutting-edge, it ends up just being another “program.” So, be careful not to fall into the latest trends, but really seek the Lord for what He’s asking of you and of your community of faith. Does your heart break with the things that break His heart?

Then secondly, walk and guard your heart against speaking ill of our brothers in the IC, for there is no good which really comes from that. If the foundation of your emerging church is just to not be “them”, then I don’t know how God can bless that long term. Such a thing speaks of rebellion or anger or whatever. If God is calling you to pioneer some new territory, great – go for it!! But, just don’t launch out on “old fuel” of resentment. There’s a lot of youthful, exuberant rage out there; and I don’t see that as God-honoring. It’s important to walk humbly and truthfully before God and in respect to others – and to avoid pointing the finger. Forgive “them”, and walk on in the true freedom God has for you.

Continue reading "Learning to BE Church: An Interview with a House-Church Team, part 4" »